FREE: Ready to build sustainable revenue and get paid for your life-changing work? Get the tools:

How to Write Headlines: 7 Scroll-Stopping Examples from the Cosmo Playbook

A blurred photo of a man standing on a stage in front of a lot of people

Cosmopolitan magazine has been a fixture at magazine stands and grocery store checkouts for decades. What you may not realize is that a glance at the cover can give you a master class on how to write headlines.

Headlines — and the copywriter behind them — turned a once-struggling publication into an international sensation.

In 1965 Cosmo, as it’s often called, was teetering on the edge of survival. The along came Helen Gurley Brown.

Gurley Brown gained recognition as one of the most rewarded advertising copywriters across the U.S. Her 1962 bestseller, “Sex and the Single Girl,” published just before Betty Friedan sparked the women’s movement, heralded a new wave in the publishing world.

Her copywriting expertise landed Gurley Brown a role at Cosmo. She not only revived the magazine but remained at the helm as editor for an impressive tenure of 32 years.

The secret to her success? She knew how to grab a reader’s attention. A big part of that was her headline-writing skills.

Flanked by images of stunning women, this simple yet compelling strategy catapulted Cosmopolitan from near extinction to an international sensation, boasting 64 global editions. By the time Gurley Brown left her editor’s position, Cosmo was selling 2.5 million copies a month.

So how does learning how to write headlines for magazines translate to the success of a small business?

cosmo covers

It turns out that the magazine rack is one of the best places to find inspiration for how to write headlines that make your content marketing an attention magnet.

Take a look at the magazines that rely on the impulsive decision of a reader to pick them up. There you’ll find a treasure trove — inspiration for how to write headlines that make an impact.

With a dash of imagination and some clever re-writing, even a provocative magazine headline could become captivating for a business audience.

Related: 3 Ways I Use AI for Faster Content Production

Why do headlines matter so much?

With readers being constantly bombarded with information, your content needs to stand out.

That’s why mastering headlines is crucial.

Let’s take a quick look at three key components of a compelling headline.

1. Attraction

Scroll-stopping headlines are the first point of contact between your content and the reader. No matter how valuable your content is, without a catchy headline, chances are it will be overlooked.

Learning how to write headlines that entice is your first step in attracting an audience.

2. Retention

This might come as a shock — most online readers only read about 20% of a page’s content.

An intriguing headline not only attracts readers but keeps them on the page longer, increasing the chances of engagement with your content.

3. Action

Compelling headlines don’t just make people read — they make people act.

Whether it’s signing up for a newsletter, buying a product, or sharing your content, the power of a persuasive headline can drive conversions and boost your business’s bottom line.

In the grand scheme of things, headlines may seem small. But their impact is not. The most successful businesses understand this and have honed the art of creating scroll-stopping headlines.

Want to learn how to write headlines that not only catch the eye but also inspire action? Here are some examples, in the style of Cosmo — and Helen Gurley Brown’s attention-getting way with words.

How to write headlines that hook: 7 ideas inspired by Helen Gurley Brown

Let’s re-imagine some classic Cosmopolitan-style headlines to demonstrate how to write headlines that you can use to engage your audience:

Get the Life You Want: It’s Way Easier Than You Think becomes
Get the Sales You Want: It’s Way Faster Than You Think
(for a CRM software company’s landing page)

329 Beauty Tricks: We Tried Them. They Work! becomes
329 Whiter Smile Tricks. We Approve Them Because They Work!
(for a dental practice booklet)

Gut Feelings You Should Never Ignore becomes
Analytics Numbers You Should Never Ignore
(for an SEO company’s blog post)

4 Risks You’re Not Taking Seriously Enough becomes
4 Customer Signals You Need to Notice Now
(for an in-house sales publication)

10 Subliminal Tricks That Make People Adore You becomes
10 Subliminal Techniques to Get Yourself Hired
(for a virtual assistant agency website)

Firm Up Your Beach Body Fast: Seven Days to Gorgeous becomes
Transform Your Business Fast: Seven Weeks to Profits
(for a business coach’s blog)

7 Things Your Partner Talks About When You’re Not There becomes
7 Things Your Customer Complains About When You’re Not There
(for a sales training manual)

Headline inspiration is everywhere

Here’s a professional copywriter’s secret: Stay alert and stay curious. Investigate magazine racks, explore high-traffic websites, and study social media posts gaining traction.

What insights can you gain from the structure of the headlines you discover? How can you modify a few words to customize them?

The best copywriters don’t start out as headline-writing experts. They developed that skill, and so can you.

Devote time to learning how to write headlines. The best ones entice, make a daring promise, and spark curiosity.

It might seem like a tall order, but with the right inspiration — which is all around you — you’ll soon become a pro!

Pamela Wilson

Pamela Wilson is the Chief Marketing Officer at DCS. She’s the creator of the Offer Accelerator Program. Learn more about Pamela’s content marketing books, and read reviews of the tools used to run this site.
Pamela Wilson coaches people in midlife to build profitable online businesses
I’m Pamela Wilson

In 2010, at the age of 45, I started this site and grew it into a business that offers freedom, flexibility — and consistent revenue.


A Guide to Large-Scale Revenue from a Small-Scale Audience

The free toolkit for experts who want to build sustainable revenue and do life-changing work.

Start Your Revenue Revolution Today

Where should we send your toolkit?

© All rights reserved